The Portland Thorns (4-2-2, 14pts.) hit the road, making a cross country trek to take on the Boston Breakers (1-6-0, 3pts.) for the first of two meetings this season at Harvard Stadium in Allston, Massachusetts on Wednesday at
4:00pm PDT. UPDATE: Kick off has been rescheduled for 4:30pm PDT.
The Thorns and Breakers have met three times in the series, with the Breakers leading the series 2-1-0, handing Portland 2-0 and 2-1 losses, with their only victory coming on July 21, as goals by Alex Morgan and Mana Shim gave the Thorns the 2-1 away victory at Dilboy Stadium, the Breakers' former home.
The Thorns find themselves coming in off a frustrating loss, that saw them drastically out shoot Sky Blue 18-9 (8-3 on goal) and earn 10 corner kicks, only to see one late mistake sink them, as an unmarked Kelley O'Hara headed in a deep free kick from Christie Rampone past Nadine Angerer in the 84th minute, handing the Thorns their second late-game loss of the season.
The Thorns defense once again was solid, limiting the chances the Sky Blue had, save for the goal. Nikki Marshall looked to be particularly strong in the back and then pushing up late in the game as an attacker, harkening back to her collegiate days at forward for Colorado. Nadine Angerer was her usual self, and Courtney Niemiec and Kat Tarr played well defensively, though their transition into the attack was lacking, slowing their attack and frustrating Riley, as related in his postgame comments.
The Thorns attack, though creating many opportunities, just simply couldn't capitalize on them. Give Jill Loyden and the Sky Blue defense credit, they did a good job of keeping Thorns of the score sheet, but Christine Sinclair and Mana Shim both had great chances that should have been put away. The attack simply looked lackluster Saturday, perhaps a product of playing on two days' rest, but they can't afford to use that as an excuse as they travel across the country to play their third game in a week.
With another frustrating result past them, the Thorns face a different sort of challenge Wednesday: cross country travel and poor field conditions, which Riley called the worst in the league. The Thorns are tired and they looked it, but this is their last match before the internationals arrive and a 10 day break, but the Breakers have struggled all season on both sides of the field, so this is probably an opportune time for the Thorns to pay them a visit.
The Breakers are struggling; there is no other way to put it. They have won one game all season, against Sky Blue on April 27, with Lianne Sanderson scoring twice, while giving up 3 goals or more in 4 of their 7 games this season, including 7 over two games last week against Chicago. They are coming in off a 2-0 shutout loss to FC Kansas City, which has left head coach Tom Durkin and the Breakers searching for answers.
Losing Sydney Leroux in the off-season was going to hurt the Breakers regardless of who they replaced her with, and so far only midfielders Lianne Sanderson and Heather O'Reilly have scored more than a goal. Off-season acquisition Lisa DeVanna has yet to score a goal and got herself sent off in the 90th minute against Sky Blue on May 3 before joining Australia for the Asian Cup the past few weeks, while Kristie Mewis has yet to make an impact as she works her way back from injury.
Just as their offense as struggled, so has their defense, allowing 18 goals, despite playing at least a game less than the rest of the league, and are tied for 2nd worse with Washington and 1 goal allowed behind Houston. In their past three matches, they have allowed half that total (9) to the Red Stars and FC Kansas City.
The Breakers and Thorns have experienced similar frustrations on the attack, where most of their scoring has come from two early matches, but the biggest difference comes in defense, where the Thorns have the leagues' best, while the Breakers are among the league worst. While a tired Thorns side could give the Breakers the chance to grab points at home against a top side in the league, Angerer is a force of her own that Boston will need to beat to get more than a point from this match.
Paul Riley made his frustrations known after the match, calling out Jessica McDonald specifically and the team's first half performance as a whole on Saturday. How the team responds to this, the cross country flight, and poor field conditions will go a long way to getting a result out of this match.
The Thorns should be able to take care of the Breakers easily, but they have to show up and play like they Wednesday, taking control of the match early and putting the opponent away before they have a chance to gain confidence, while holding off any comeback attempts.
On paper, the Thorns defense should have little to do, allowing their midfield and attack to control the match. While this is not a given, the Breakers have done little recently to signal that their attack will suddenly wake up and give the Thorns fits, though Sky Blue presented a similar appearance going into Saturday as well.
Whether or not Morgan appears will depend on how she feels Wednesday, but if the field conditions are as poor as Riley indicated, he will probably hold off on using her unless absolutely necessary since the last thing the Thorns need is to lose her for even more time.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Support Sinc - Christine Sinclair has done everything but score this season, dropping back into the midfield, blocking shots, and generally playing all over the field. While this has tried to do everything, her teammates need to step it up and free her up to do what she does best, score goals.
Take Control Early - The Thorns were dominant Wednesday, but struggled Saturday and didn't have the energy to recover when they found themselves down a goal. While Boston is also playing on short rest, the Thorns need to control the match from the start and put it away before fatigue sets in, which is inevitable with their recent schedule.
Finish - Once again, the Thorns need to finish their chances. A struggling Breakers' defense gives the Thorns a chance to break their scoring woes, but they have to finish the chances given to them.
Portland Thorns (4-2-2, 14pts.) vs. Boston Breakers (1-6-0, 3pts.)
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at
4:00pm PDT 4:30pm PDT
Harvard Stadium - Allston, Massachusetts